A newly proposed bill in California could further tighten the state’s DUI laws. The proposed law specifically targets those suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana, and if passed, creates harsher penalties for convicted drivers. This new “zero tolerance” law was proposed on February 21 and has already garnered attention throughout the state. California Assemblyman Jim Frazier introduced Assembly Bill 2500, a proposal similar to zero tolerance bills that have been defeated in previous years.  The bill is being co-authored by Senator Lou Correa, who proposed a similar law in 2013.  Senator Correa’s 2013 proposal was defeated by the state legislature.

Current California law prohibits operating a motor vehicle under the influence of a drug. The existing law targets the impairment the driver suffers due to the influencing drug.  Drivers under the influence of a drug can face DUI charges, potentially resulting in steep fines, driver’s license suspension, and jail time, and other penalties.  AB 2500 would allow DUI charges to be brought against a driver who has any trace of THC, the active chemical in marijuana, in their bloodstream. The bill’s language specifically states: “This bill would make it unlawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle if his or her blood contains any detectable amount of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol of marijuana or any other drug classified in Schedules I, II, III, or IV of the California Uniform Controlled Substance Act.”  The key difference between existing law and the potential changes is the importance of actual impairment.  The law change would not distinguish between actual impairment and the mere presence of THC in a driver’s system.  This lack of distinction has caused criticism among California’s pro-marijuana community.

Specifically, these critics focus on the fact that THC can remain in a user’s bloodstream long after the effect of the drug has worn off.  This means that a driver with THC in their system could be charged with a DUI even though the THC is no longer impairing their driving abilities. The high from marijuana wears off relatively quickly, but some studies report that THC can remain in the bloodstream for days at a time. The California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws staunchly opposes AB 2500,claiming that “there exists no scientific basis for a ‘zero-tolerance’ DUI standard… [because]marijuana by itself is a much lesser road hazard than alcohol and other drugs.”

Critics also believe that the law could inordinately punish drivers who legally use medical marijuana.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 20 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana use. Since 1996, California has been included in this number.  Qualified patients in California can apply for a medical marijuana use license based on a doctor’s recommendation. Marijuana has longed been used to treat nausea due to chemotherapy, pain, and Multiple Sclerosis, among other illnesses.  The proposed law’s current language does not lay out any exception for drivers with THC in their system due to legal medical marijuana use.  Currently, AB 2500 is working its way through the Assembly Committee process.

DISCLAIMER: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem.